Cumberbatch & Fiennes on camera as Open Air Theatre uploads archives.

Benedict Cumberbatch rehearsing Loves Labours Lost, Regents Park Open Air Theatre, 2001
Benedict Cumberbatch rehearsing Loves Labours Lost, Regents Park Open Air Theatre, 2001

Young Benedict Cumberbatch and Ralph Fiennes are among a group of aspiring actors caught on camera as they prepared to perform at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, London.

Now, for the first time in the theatre’s 83-year history, access to the venue’s archives are available for everyone, following the compilation of a free digital archive.

The collection comprises items relating to productions dating back to the 1930s including programmes, photographs, posters and production designs.

As part of a long-term heritage project, material from these archives will be digitalized, preserving the delicate printed material for future generations.

Ralph Fiennes & Sarah Woodward, Romeo and Juliet (1986).
Romeo Ralph Fiennes (1986).

The Open Air Theatre has provided work for a number of the country’s actors, directors and creative teams over its history, some relatively unknown at the time but who have gone to illustrious careers on stage and film.

The website launches with a detailed catalogue of four well-known theatre alumni; Dame Judi Dench, Benedict Cumberbatch, Hugh Bonneville and Janie Dee.

Visitors to the website will be able to delve into the actors’ relationship with the venue, viewing previously unseen production images and programmes.

Each quarter, there will be a new focus on an aspect of the theatre’s history.

Opening in 1932 with a production of Twelfth Night, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is the oldest, professional, permanent outdoor theatre in Britain.

It has grown and developed to become a firm fixture for summer in London with over 140,000 people attending four annual productions between May and September.

Actor Hugh Bonneville made his professional stage debut at the theatre, in 1986, “bashing a cymbal” understudying Fiennes in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

He said: “I’m delighted that, thanks to this wonderful new initiative, a flavour of past productions and a Who’s Who of the theatre makers who have been part of its rich history, is being brought to life”.

Trustee of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, Judi Dench, added: “I am thrilled that the theatre is launching a Heritage Project to make their fascinating history available to all.

“I have enjoyed a long association with the theatre, and I am sure that anyone who has worked there, or who has seen a production there, have their own memories of special times in that unique venue.

“To bring their archive collection together online for the first time will offer a wonderful opportunity to find out more about their past, but will secure that history for generations to come”.

The theatre is looking for donations of historic material, especially for the period 1932 – 1962, where current archives are limited. Contact heritage@openairtheatre.com to make contributions to the archive.

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